Open Access
Lenihan, Martin Henry
Graduate Program:
Rural Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 03, 2006
Committee Members:
  • Kathryn Jo Brasier, Committee Chair
  • Carolyn Elizabeth Sachs, Committee Member
  • Richard C Stedman, Committee Member
  • James Alan Mccarthy, Committee Member
  • Cynthia Clare Hinrichs, Committee Member
  • multifunctionality
  • agri-environmental
  • sociology of agriculture
  • rural governance
Growing pressure for trade liberalization in agriculture emanating from World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations has created a good deal of uncertainty about the future of the global agrifood regime. One expression of this uncertainty is the debate surrounding the use of the multifunctionality argument in agricultural trade negotiations. Accordingly, agriculture should be treated differently in global trade negotiations because of its unique contribution to society. This position is championed by the European Union (EU), among others, and received a mixed reaction from the United States. The scholarly debate on multifunctional agriculture has also been mixed. Some argue that the use of this concept in global trade negotiations represents a form of rearguard protectionism, while others optimistically claim that it points towards a post-productivist transition. Still others claim it serves to legitimate the liberalization process. This dissertation seeks to clarify the meaning of multifunctional agriculture as a policy concept, by focusing on the various discursive arenas where it is debated. The purpose of the study is to determine whether or not there is a hegemonic definition of the concept at the global level of governance, and how this definition is diffused to the state and local level of governance. In order to investigate this issue the public discourse on multifunctional agriculture that arose from the policy debates surrounding the Green Box subsidy category in the WTO negotiations, the Rural Development Regulation of the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy and the US Farm Bill Conservation Security Program are analyzed. In depth case studies of the debate surrounding the implementation of agri-environmental programs in Ireland and Pennsylvania were also conducted. The relative hegemony of a particular interpretation of agriculture’s multifunctional role was determined by the degree to which it resonated among the different socio-political actors (official, mainstream farmer, sustainable agriculture, and environmental) in a given policy arena, and with similar policy actors at different levels of governance. Based on this analysis it was concluded that the hegemonic interpretation of multifunctional agriculture at the macro-level of governance largely reflected or complemented the neoliberal agenda. However, these macro-level interpretations failed to resonate with official and social movement actors at other levels of governance, who were either ambivalent or hostile towards the liberalization project, and who tended to privilege discourses that emphasized hygienic, neo-mercantilist, and agro-ecological concerns. This suggests that the extent to which the debate on agriculture’s multifunctional role reflects neoliberal, post-productivist, or protectionist concerns largely depends on the level of governance which the debate is taking place, as well as the geographical context of the debate.